I had checked in with Andy early in the morning and he said that he slept okay. After getting the kids to school I hurried off to the hospital. I was only there for about twenty minutes before things started getting a little scarier. Andy’s heart rate continued to go up and he was no longer feeling okay. Doctors and nurses came in and out, assessing, giving medications, ordering labs and tests. Andy handled it all with such grace and calm. Family began texting and calling, some of them coming to the hospital. I just wanted answers so we could fix this problem.
This was day one of our journey. Journeys take us to all sorts of places; some places we want to go and some places that make us want to run the other direction. Sometimes you can choose your journey, but other times it’s chosen for you. As Andy and I settled into ours, we talked about accepting it (like we really had a choice). The calls and texts came in and so did the prayers.
The angiogram showed no blockage in any veins or arteries, which was good news. The echocardiogram showed an area in the left ventricle of his heart that was misfiring. A cardiac MRI was done and we were waiting on the results of that. In the meantime, the doctor decided that an ablation procedure would be appropriate to take care of that area.
The night before the scheduled ablation, Dr. Wilkinson, the one who would be doing the procedure, came into Andy’s room. He showed us the echocardiogram again and explained the procedure, but after he explained these things he paused, crossed his arms, put his hand on his chin and said, “Listen, I have a feeling that there’s more going on here. I’m concerned that it’s not just this one area that is causing your problems. I want to be straightforward with you. You won’t be going home in the next couple of days. We have got to figure out what’s causing this and why and properly treat you before sending you home. Your MRI is being read at UW Medical Center by the experts and they will send me their findings in the morning. I will take a close look at that before we do the ablation.”
After he answered all of the questions we could think of and left, Andy and I both felt the weight of his words lingering in the room. Up to this point I felt that once they figured it out, he’d be treated, and we’d be on our way. I expected this new journey to be clear and brief and I wanted it to be closed, wrapped up neatly, and put on the shelf; all done. It was now painfully obvious that this wasn’t going to be worked out how I wanted and I was scared.
Andy wanted to talk about it. He wanted to talk about the reality of the situation and the what ifs and get things organized and I wanted none of it. I wasn’t ready for that. I had just been in crisis-survival-mode and I didn’t want to discuss the what ifs. I wanted to stay in the fix-it-so-we-can-go-home-and-get-back-to-normal-life mode. What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the first of many heavy moments; moments wishing I could run in the other direction. Underneath my worry and fear I knew that Andy’s life was in God’s hands and not mine. I understood that in my mind, but I was having a tough time telling that to my heart.
The next morning I woke up with hope; hope that this procedure would help Andy and fix his problem and hope that God’s ways are not mine, but they are best. Still waiting on the MRI results, Andy was moved into the pre-op area where he was prepped for the ablation procedure. We talked and we laughed about dumb things, avoiding the weight of the day. Dr. Wilkinson came into the room with another concerned look on his face.
“I just got the MRI results. More of your heart has been affected; it’s not just the left side, but a good portion of the right side, including the septum which is the part that divides the left and right ventricles. Your case just became much more complicated. We aren’t going to do the ablation procedure today. I need to refer you on to Dr. Robinson at UW Medical Center. I think you will still need the ablation, but it will have to be done from both the inside and the outside of the heart. She’s the best of the best and specializes in this procedure. You need to be at UW. It’s the right place for you to be.”
Dr. Wilkinson went on to explain where Andy’s heart was affected and drew a picture showing what was going on. I felt numb. I thought of our family who was in the waiting room. I didn’t know what to tell them. This was too difficult to understand. I asked the doctor if our family could come back so he could explain again all that he had to us. He said he’d be happy to.
I walked out of the room, looking for the waiting room and trying to hold it together. I felt like I was suffocating; struggling to find a deep breath. Dr. Wilkinson’s nurse, Barbara, saw me walking around aimlessly and knew I needed her. This woman was an angel sent at the perfect right time. The day before she had explained the whole ablation procedure, answered our questions, and even showed me the room where they would be doing the procedure. She had been so helpful and kind to us. She rushed to my side, hugged me and said, “How are you handling this?”
I broke into tears and shook my head. Clearly, I wasn’t handling it well. I didn’t even have to explain, Barbara already knew. She hugged me and gently guided me to a small room, grabbed some tissues and got me some water. She listened to my fears, comforted me and said, “Take as long as you need. This is so much and I know it’s shocking for you. I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this. Would you like me to go with you to talk with your family?”
“Yes, please. This is so much harder than I imagined. I thought he would have this procedure and be better. Nothing is going the way I thought it would, or should.” I looked to her wishing she had answers, though I knew she didn’t.
Barbara didn’t have answers, but she knew I needed to get it out. I needed her to listen and understand what I was feeling and that’s exactly what she did. She stayed with me until I pulled myself together to go tell our family what was going on.
I expected to find Andy’s parents and my mom and sister in the waiting area, but Andy’s parents had decided to wait at home since the procedure was supposed to be a long one. Instead I found my mom and my dear friend, Vicki. As soon as I saw them I lost it again. I couldn’t find the words to explain what was going on, but Barbara was there right be my side and led us all back to the room where Andy and Dr. Wilkinson were waiting. I managed to control my emotions enough to be quiet and listen, once again, to Dr. Wilkinson explain things.
While he went over the new plan, I got myself geared up for the next thing. We just had to do the next thing. By the time we got back to Andy’s room my sister had arrived and was brought up to speed of what was going on. I was tired and I couldn’t explain this over and over to family so my sweet sister did it for me. Andy called his parents to come back to the hospital so he could explain things. And somewhere in there, another angel went to pick up Pagliacci’s pizza because that’s what Andy wanted and what Andy wants, he gets, at least that’s how it works in the hospital. We all sat in his room still shocked by this turn of events, stuffing our faces with pizza, texting/calling and updating.
Andy was transferred to UW Medical Center later that evening in an ambulance. No flashing lights or sirens were necessary, but he needed to stay on his heart monitor and IV while being transported. Andy rode in the back with a paramedic, while I rode in the front with the driver. Andy asked all about the man’s life and what he does, what he’s seen, and how he handles it. That’s how Andy is, sick or not, he cares about other people and their lives. I talked with the other man in between listening in on Andy’s conversation in the back, wishing I had the listening ear that Andy always gives to people. These two men were kind, understanding, and wonderful. I wanted them to stay and hang out with us longer.
They got Andy all settled in to his new home for the next week; ICU, 5th floor. And so our next adventure on this journey began. It was late and we were both tired. A nursing assistant brought in bedding for the chair-turned-bed for me to sleep on. New doctors and nurses came in to assess and treat. In a way, it was like starting over. Each doctor that entered the room wanted to hear the full story from the very beginning, so as not to miss any detail or any new information that might give some answers to this medical mystery. UW Medical Center is a teaching hospital so while it offers cutting edge medicine and treatments, it also offers a lot of medical students and residents, each trying to take a crack at what could be going on. I felt bad for Andy as he had to endure endless questions, daily lab draws (at 4am), and shots in the stomach twice a day. Not once did he complain.